Game Review: Sid Meier's Starships

It’s undoubtedly a good sign when both the GIR and I are writing about PC or video games, as it means we can spend a few hours in front of a screen rather than in front of a shovel.  Where the GIR has been hard at work getting out ahead of the release dates for some of our favorite games from PAX East, I’ve had my nose in a title from one of the few AAA publishers I claim any sort of loyalty to. Despite the initial draw of Civilization: Beyond Earth, and subsequent disappointment,  the Sid Meier name piqued my curiosity when Firaxis announced it’d be attached to a new turn-based strategy game: Starships.

There were more than a few raised eyebrows when Firaxis set the release of Starships less than five months after Beyond Earth made its debut. The studio responded with many expressions of, “Don’t worry, it’s a totally different type of game. It’s just set in the Beyond Earth universe.” The not-so-subtle implication there being that not only could they could totally develop a solid game in their appointed timeframe, but that this would be the model for a series of games that would share a setting. So, were they successful in this venture?

Eh, sort of.

That’s not to say that Starships is terrible, there are quite a few very fun bits, it’s just not particularly good and when your game has that Sid Meier prefix, ‘not particularly good’ takes on a considerably more dour meaning. What’s particularly frustrating about Starships is that there’s plenty of potential for it to have been a richer, more enjoyable game but those opportunities seem to have either been ignored or shunted aside in the interest of time or the need for compatibility with mobile platforms.

That last point is actually the foundation for more than a few of the disappointing qualities of Starships. The game looks, feels, and largely plays like it was configured exclusively for a tablet (which it was, as the game is available in the App Store), which translates to more than a few awkward bits when you play on a desktop. You may find yourself frustrated with the hover-to-open-dialogue-wheel controls that are the basis for all the non-combat portions of the game, as these tend to be less responsive to a mouse than they would, say, a finger on a touch screen.

Wait, let's back up a bit.

In Starships, you assume a leadership role in one of the same civilizations available in Beyond Earth. You also select an Affinity for your civilization from the three presented in Beyond Earth though, in all honesty, neither of these choices have a whole lot of impact on actual gameplay. After making your selections, you're hurled out into the darkness of space and presented with a planet that serves as the base of operations/effective capital of your eventual empire. That's quite literally your introduction to Starships. While the game itself is not terribly complex, there is nothing in the way of a tutorial; be prepared for either some trial-and-error or scouring the in-game encyclopedia.

In addition to your home planet, you're provided with a pair of the eponymous starships. These vessels are your primary means of establishing and maintaining your galactic presence. You move them between various planets on a map that's randomly generated at the outset of the game and attempt to gain influence over said planets by performing various tasks for the inhabitants. These quests can vary from eliminating navigating a labyrinthine asteroid field to battling a pirate armada and it's in completing these tasks that you get to experience the high points of the game.

Because dogfighting with space pirates is almost always a good time
Regardless of the goal, the quests all have the same basic form: a turn-based tactics scenario. You maneuver your starships amongst environmental hazards or against any number of adversaries. It can be a lot of fun, particularly after you've installed a few upgrades on your ships, but there's not much variety in the types of tasks you're given, so even the more interesting quests get repetitive towards the tail end of the game. The upgrades to your ships, while definitely helpful, are very clearly modifications to a statistics engine. Furthermore, there's no discernable scale for the difficulty level of each mission, so there may be occasions where you'll lose a mission largely because you had no way of knowing how to prepare properly. To that effect, you're provided with a predicted probability of success for each mission, but this percentage doesn't seem to reflect any actual inputs from the game and thus doesn't provide you with a meaningful gauge of difficulty.

The game throws a ton of information at you, but most of it is noise
The iterative tactical combat gives the impression that Starships is a much deeper strategy game than it actually is. Outside the framework of the quests, you're tasked with cultivating your empire as it exists across the array of planets you've been able to gain sufficient influence over. While there are a handful of ways to do this, namely constructing buildings or wonders, what you elect to do with each planet (and how you manage the array of resources that are produced by each) seems to matter considerably less than just completing the quests. After finishing a few tasks you can treat your fatigued crew members to a bit of shore leave on a given planet, which also seems to do more for influence levels than active engagement.

Whether by building or by blaster, your goal is to extend your influence over 51% of the galaxy. Aside from roaming gangs of pirates, other civilizations will seek to thwart your efforts via varying degrees of aggression. No matter what your play style, the mid-to-end game will come down to warfare of one flavor or another, with battles taking same the turn-based tactical form as the planetary missions. It's all a matter of which fights you pick and who you rumble with. As in some of the classic Civilization games, you may find yourself shaking your head at the questionable choices and sometimes suicidal aggression of the AI.

Starships has its moments; if you're playing on a mobile platform or are just in the mood for light, snack-sized strategy (with playthroughs taking only a couple of hours) then you may get a lot of enjoyment out of it. It's neither particularly challenging, even on the higher difficulties, nor especially deep in what it offers, which can be good if you're, say, waiting to meet up with friends or commuting home. What it's not likely to do is satisfy PC/tabletop gamers who want their 4x strategy fix. If you do want to try Starships out for yourself then I highly recommend waiting a few months and pick it up during a Steam sale.

Final Grade: C/C+
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Gias Glance: Sending the Gaming Industry a Message (Part 3)

This post is the third in a series examining why gamers should reconsider pre-ordering games. If you're just joining us now, you can find the first part in the series here, and the second part here.

Why Not Pre-Order? For a Better Video Game Industry

Please oh please let VR be a huge gaming success.
I have wanted in-home gaming VR since I was a kid.
If you're a fan of video games, then presumably you would like the video game industry to continue existing for decades to come so that you can continue to play games as you get older. Presumably you would also want there to be innovation and progress in the industry in order for better, more exciting games to come out in the future.

Looking back at the history of gaming tells us a lot about what we can expect in the future, just as any historical background can help inform us about where we’re going. For example, look at how the graphics of games have changed from the 80s to today. The leap is so profound and amazing that if you tried to explain it or show it to a gamer from that era, they might have a difficult time grasping how it’s possible. The content of games has also changed rather dramatically. In the 80s, the available hardware did not have the processing power to simulate large open worlds for exploration, or for there to be hundreds of things going on at one time in one place. We can expect these trends to continue, though perhaps not to the same startling degree, but improvements in these areas are logical steps forward.

However, with all the hope that those amazing changes give us, there are some disturbing things from gaming history that we must consider as well. It is possible for the market to reach a point where consumers lose so much faith in developers that the market crashes. It's happened before. There was a North American video game crash in 1983 followed by a recession that almost destroyed the video game industry altogether. The most widely accepted cause for this crash was market saturation of poorly made games, such as the legendarily bad E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial video game. The gaming industry got to a point where developers were comfortable pushing out games in a terrible and/or unfinished state. Customers became fed-up and stopped buying the products in large enough numbers that the industry collapsed. Following this collapse, companies sought to avoid the mistakes that lead to the disaster and began making higher quality games.

The state of the gaming industry today is such that I wouldn't be surprised if there was another crash. Companies have grown complacent and find it acceptable to push unfinished games out the door. They promise patches to fix the issues, though much of the time many bugs are left unfixed. Companies do this because there is a time value to money: if you can earn $100M today instead of in 3 months, the money today is worth more since the value will appreciate over time. Developers could easily hold back games until they are polished and in a good and playable state, but don’t because they know that people will buy them anyway. They understand that the market will bear the buggy nature of their games.

Final Note

Change IS going to come to the video game industry, one way or another, and what that change is depends on how consumers choose to spend money. If we continue the trend of handing over money every time a developer makes a new game, regardless of the quality, then the game industry will wither. Giving money to developers without care for the entertainment value of a game tells them they don’t need to spend money or effort on their games. I want a game industry that puts out well polished, innovative, entertaining games. If you want that sort of game industry as well, please show the game developers by voting with your wallet.

We are also on the verge of thought controlled games.
I can't wait to see the future of gaming if companies
and consumers can get their acts together.

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This Week in Geekdom

Happy weekend everyone and best wishes for what remains of your con for everybody at Emerald City Comic Con right now. Of all the conventions out there that we've yet to try, ECCC is at the top of our Potential Cons for 2016 list. We're giving serious thought to making a trip to Seattle happen next year, so if you've been to ECCC and would like to offer us any advice or suggestions, we'd love to hear from you!

But ok, less about next year and more about this week in Geekdom!


It's been an epic pantheon 75 years in the making, here is the story of how the Marvel universe as we know it came to be.


The DLC for the already difficult motorcycle platformer, Trials Fusion, is so intense that even the developers can't beat some of the levels they've created.


It was a rumor we'd been following for quite some time, but this week it became a reality: the X-Files is officially coming back to TV as a six-episode miniseries.

Tonight is the Season Five finale of the Walking Dead, but there's more zombie apocalypse goodness headed our way. The spinoff of the hit series officially has both a name and an order for two full seasons of production.

It's been nearly 10 years since the last broadcast of Star Trek: Enterprise, but, despite the lack of airtime, the series is experiencing something of a renaissance and here's why.

The Deadpool movie is only in the early stages of production, but we have at least one photo of Ryan Reynold's take on the Merc with a Mouth.

Leonard Nimoy's son is planning to make a documentary about the life and times of his erstwhile Vulcan father.

This past Thursday was the 10th anniversary of Doctor Who's rebirth on the small screen.


Icelandic researchers believe they have mapped the genetic records for the entirety of their homeland.

Paleontologists from the University of Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the University of Pomona believe they have uncovered the common ancestor for lobsters, butterflies, and spiders (yep, they're related).

A group of California scientists (who may or may not be supervillains in the making) have discovered a treatment that appears to give humans extraordinary night vision. Warning: the subject for the study looks like he's been infected with the Black Oil from the X-Files.

On Friday, two astronauts were shuttled up to the International Space Station to begin a year-long stay in space. 

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. Is that fact due to cosmic happenstance or because Jupiter murdered its planetary rivals?

Speaking of celestial drama, the latest edition of Physical Review Letters contains this research from the University of Cambridge that appears to provide solutions to decades-old equations that describe the behavior of two black holes colliding with one another.

Image credit: NASA, not content to soon have a fleet of drones, is building up an army of robots.

It's happened to just about everyone: you find yourself laughing at what would be considered an inappropriate moment. Why do we do this? Here comes the science.

General Awesomeness/Feats of Nerdery

Behold, a fully functional vinyl record player made entirely out of Legos.

George R.R. Martin believes he has the perfect solution to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Crowdfundables for Your Consideration

There are three weeks left for you to delve into the cyberpunk universe of Neon Sanctum. The Kickstarter for the card-based RPG will be up and running until April 19th. Bonus: it's EU-friendly!

As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!
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GiR by GIR: Ironcast

While matching games tend to get written off as something for casual gamers to busy themselves with, Dreadbit is doing their best to change that perception with their first title, Ironcast. While on the surface the game may look a bit like PuzzleQuest with a Victorian Era Steampunk flair, my time spent with the match-3/roguelite hybrid quickly revealed it to be much, much more.  

Ironcast is a true hybrid and has a considerable amount of RPG elements welded onto its match-3 core game play. Without spoiling too much of the story, the basic premise is that, in an alternate history, England and France are at war and use Steampunk/Clockwork mechs called Ironcasts and tanks to battle it out. You play as the pilot of one the eponymous Ironcasts, engaging in glorious combat on behalf of England (naturally, given that Dreadbit is based in the UK).

There are essentially three screens players will spend their time looking at: the world map to select missions from, the hanger bay where you customize and repair your Ironcast between missions, and the match-3 combat screen; the first two are reminiscent of FTL while the latter resembles PuzzleQuest.  

After players will pick a starting commander and a Ironcast, it's off to the world map from which they can progress through a non-linear story line by choosing and completing missions with various objectives and, in turn, earn various rewards. Though there is only one option in terms of available commanders and Ironcast chassis at the outset, more of each will unlock over time as part of the roguelite aspect of the game. Rewards come in the form of schematics or parts to improve your Ironcast, upgrades to those parts, gold to buy these upgrades, or War Assets which are a unique resource that reduces the total health of Boss Enemies or provides alternative ways of completing missions instead of entering match-3 combat. In addition to rewards you also earn XP, which is used both to advance the current active game as well as unlocking things for future runs after you inevitably fail in the active game.

As mentioned earlier, missions most frequently take the form of match-3 combat. During each match, the player is depicted on the left side of the screen and your enemy is on the right with the matching grid separating them. In a standard match-3 style game you're typically swapping or shifting tiles in that grid to match three or more tiles that share a property, like color or shape, which clears those matches off the grid and allows more tiles to drop in from the top of the screen. While in a game like Bejeweled or Candy Crush this setup is perfectly fine, any game where you are playing against an AI, such as PuzzleQuest, this can be infuriating as the human player can feel cheated if the AI manages to chain dozens of matches together by random chance as new tiles fill the board and automatically match up perfectly.      

Ironcast counters this issue perfectly by making a subtle but powerful change to the base matching mechanic. Instead of shifting and swapping tiles, Ironcast lets the player draw a line that connects through as many tiles of the same color/symbol as they want or are otherwise able to (ability here being any same-style tiles that are orthoganally adjoining). While fresh tiles still drop down into the play area after a line is drawn, this eliminates the possibility of random matches triggering chain reactions based on luck. Ultimately, this is more rewarding for skilled players who can plan ahead instead of those who are just fortunate. Another seemingly slight change that I felt actually led to a much richer game, tactically speaking, was the fact that players get up to three actions per turn instead of the typical one.

In Ironcast the tiles are of five colors and symbols that players try to link, each corresponding to a specific function: Green Wrenches for repairing damaged systems, Purple Ammo for powering weapons, Blue Snowflakes for coolant, Orange Lightning for energy to power defensive systems and movement, and, lastly Gold Scrap, which is used in the hanger between missions for repairs and upgrades. There are also special tiles that allow you to do things such as link different colors together or supercharge systems to be more effective. Each combat is a delicate balancing act of providing the necessary resources for the systems that demand them. More than once I found myself torn between matching a string of gold for desperately needed repairs and upgrades and simply keeping my guns sufficiently powered to ensure I would live long enough to spend the pittance of gold I already had.

Where other match-3 games can feel mind-numbingly repetitive after a point, Ironcast keeps things fresh and moving with unlockable commanders, chassis, loot drops, and an intriguing story. After several failed runs I managed to beat a difficult Boss, which I assumed would be the end of the game a la FTL. Instead I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is the point wherein the real game was just beginning. Without getting into spoilers, apparently not everything my character had been told up until that moment was as it seemed.

Overall, I found the gameplay challenging but never unfair, and the global XP allowed me to feel like I was always making some progress even through failure. Better-than-average story telling combined with very welcome improved strategy elements to the classic match-3 formula means the lovely art style and combat animations are just icing on an already masterfully crafted cake. Ironcast doesn't reinvent the concept of matching games, but rather redefines what they can be capable of. I sincerely look forward to playing more of it and suggest you check it out once it releases on March 26th for PC/Mac/Linux via Steam and the Humble Store. Bonus: the game will be available at a 30% discount if you order from Steam or Humble in the first five days after launch. Ironcast will also be available on PS3, PS4, and Xbox One later this year.

Ironcast was reviewed on a PC using a beta access key provided to the Care and Feeding of Nerds by Dreadbit.
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This Week in Geekdom

The calendar says it's Spring, but our surroundings make us inclined to disbelieve. Can you guess it's snowing again? Seriously winter, you had your make like a landspeeder and move along. Lingering House Stark mottos notwithstanding, we're working on all sorts of good stuff for you guys here behind the scenes. The coming weeks will see more fun games, the return of cosplay-related posts, and at least one (hopefully fun) contest. All that goodness is on its way, but, for now, lets get down to the Week in Geekdom.


The final novel in the late Terry Pratchett's Discworld series will be published this coming October.

Image: Archie Comics

Archie Comics, after revamping both Sabrina the Teenaged Witch and Afterlife with Archie, will be introducing a new all-horror imprint.

This past week there was much gnashing of teeth and internet screaming concerning a certain variant cover for Batgirl. If you missed out on this here's a summary of what went down.


The feud between Kojima Productions and its publisher, Konami, looks like it's reaching an ugly head. Earlier this week the publisher confirmed that Kojima would be leaving Konami's purview after the release of Metal Gear Solid 5.

Valve's Gabe Newell talks about his company's new VR headset and the likelihood of them ever making Half-Life 3.

Speaking of VR, it's no secret that the technology is on the cusp of breaking into mainstream video gaming. If Valve's forthcoming headset isn't enough to get you excited, here are 10 VR games poised to make off with all your free time.

It's getting increasingly difficult to be able to play older PC games and, in this article by Escapist, we learn why this issue is only going to get more pervasive over time.

There's no shortage of examples of video game Kickstarters that have yielded vaporware or colossal flops, but here is the story of Harebrained Schemes (makers of Shadowrun: Hong Kong), one of the few crowdfunded studios that seemingly has done everything right. 

If you are both a Star Trek fan and a player of the mobile game Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff then the next month or so will be filled with awesome as the latter features a special all-Trek event.


A few very driven fans of Archer may have uncovered one of the most complex easter eggs of all time.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt will be producing and starring in a Fraggle Rock movie.


This past Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of the very first spacewalk.

Our sun was remarkably active this week and said nuclear storminess produced some impressive auroras. If you missed out, no worries, here are some of the best pictures of these geomagnetic light shows.

Nvidia has developed a $10,000 USD computer that allegedly can teach cars to drive.

Online retail megagiant has been given the all-clear by the Federal Aviation Administration to begin testing of their package delivery drones.

The Ig Nobels, deliverers of some of the best weird science we humans can come up with, turn 25 this year.

Google has sunk nearly half a billion dollars into the project and we can finally get this glimpse of the work produced by its augmented reality start up, Magic Leap.

It's a subject that has fascinated humanity for eons: what happens during a near-death experience?

The current issue of Nature Medicine includes a report that indicates Type 2 diabetics may be able to control their insulin levels with the help of a common over-the-counter cough suppressant.

What's (potentially) the best way to fight leukemia? Turn the cancerous cells into immune cells.

It's a frustrating phenomenon that almost everyone has experienced: you definitely know the word or concept needed in a given situation, but you can't for the life of you recall what it is. What causes these 'brain farts'? Here comes the science.

It may be a giant when compared to most of its biological counterparts, but this Octopus is no kaiju.

Microsoft really, really wants you to switch over to Windows 10 when it launches this summer. It wants this so badly that you can reap the benefits of the free upgrade even if you're currently running a pirated copy of another version of Windows.

Ever wonder what happened to GeoSites, Netscape, or Lycos? Well wonder no more.

Researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science have detailed their discovery of not one, not two, but five distinct types of transitory silica in the latest edition of Nature Communications.

What does flying a kite have to do with exploring the surface of Mars? Potentially quite a bit.

Crowdfundables For Your Consideration

Neon Sanctum is a fast-paced, richly realized RPG set in a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk universe. Players use a set of custom cards to track their various abilities, allowing for fluid gameplay while also making the game highly digestible to new players. The Kickstarter for Neon Sanctum is live now and will run until April 19th.

Loot and Recruit aims to be 'a new breed of deck-builder'. In this quick and beautifully illustrated game, players are goblins seeking to lay claim to the goblin throne during the course of a fairly rambunctious festival. The campaign for Loot & Recruit is running until April 9th.

General Awesomeness/Feats of Nerdery

How much would it cost to build the Millennium Falcon? According to DeAgostini Model Space, nearly 3.2 billion GBP. If that's a tad rich for your blood, you can always go with this far less expensive 1:1 scale model.

Speaking of the Falcon, check out this incredibly detailed all-paper model that was four full years in the making.

On Tuesday lunar pioneer Buzz Aldrin gave us this epic photo of Stonehenge.

It's an amazing shot of Loch Ness, but not for the reason you may think.

It's beer brewed with yeast that went to space. Enough said.

As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!
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Game Review: Clairvoyance

We promised you guys a cavalcade of new, fun indie games and we’re gonna keep delivering on that promise. All the games! We've spent part of both the pre and post-PAX days engaged in a series of epic psychic battles with one another via the card game Clairvoyance.  While Clairvoyance isn’t the first game made by Eye 4 Games, the folks behind the label count this title as being the foundation of their organization.

Wait, back up for a second. You said something about epic psychic battles. Can you fill us on that?

Sure thing. In Clairvoyance 2-5 players assume the role of various Jazz Era-esque characters and slug it out with one another using their telekinetic abilities and an array of objects. Said objects manifest as one of 80 cards, which form either the player's hand or their tableau, and the strategic use of said cards is just one of the foundations that Clairvoyance rests on. Aside from being the objects that players use as their erstwhile projectiles, the cards can also allow players to mess with their opponents or, conversely, provide a measure of defense against such machinations.

So you have a hand of up to 5 cards and you'd like to flex those telekinetic brainwaves by throwing the object depicted on one of them at an opponent. Most objects must first be possessed, or removed from your hand and placed in a tableau in front of you. This action invites your fellow players to try and modify or otherwise stymie your intentions by playing cards of their own. If your would-be weapons have survived your fellow players then this will likely be your first encounter with Clairvoyance's truly unique mechanic: die turning.

You mean dice rolling?

Nope. Although you're working with an 8-sided die (which has a beautiful purple-and-gold swirled design that matches the rest of the game), the only time you actually roll it is at the very outset of the game to determine who goes first. After that, all interactions with the die are to turn it so that a new face is presented.

Eh? I'm not sure I get it.

Whether your telekinetic weapon issues damage or not depends on which faces of the die are showing when you send the objects hurling into proverbial space. The card depicting the objects details which 'activation faces', or sides of the die, are required to either be showing or available on the sides of the die immediately adjacent to that which is facing up. When you attempt to throw an item, you turn the die along one of the three available edges to reveal an adjacent face (and the three adjoining faces). If either the revealed face or revealed adjacent faces matches the activation number on the card then your attempt is successful and you send the object crashing into your chosen opponent, diminishing their HP. The last player to have non-zero HP is the winner.


It's really not as complicated as it sounds, we promise. The rulebook includes excellent examples and we were able to get the hang of the mechanic by the end of one person's turn. Speaking of the rulebook, it's extremely well-written, concise, and full of tongue-in-cheek snark that may elicit chuckles. That good-natured vibe is consistent throughout the theme of the entire game, which creates this immediate air of welcome. Add to that some striking artwork and brief but detailed backstory for both the playable characters and the game as a whole for a deeply enjoyable overall gaming experience.

One of our favorite fast-to-play (fast being under 1 hour) games is High Noon Saloon by Slugfest Games and Clairvoyance echoed some of the best parts of that title. The die rolling adds a bit of a twist on your standard draw-and-sling-from-the-hand style of play, but it doesn't slow things down. We found that games consistently fell within the 10-15 minutes per player guideline stated in the rulebook. Furthermore, the die rolling adds a bit of strategy, allowing Clairvoyance to appeal to experienced gamers while not creating a massive hurdle for newcomers.

A compact, highly portable title, Clairvoyance can be easily stowed in a backpack and the space required to play is such that it can easily make an appearance while waiting in line at a convention but still fit right in during a game night. It's a beautiful, often funny, wonderfully put together title that speaks volumes about the time and care that went into designing it.

Clairvoyance is an all-around good time and we definitely recommend it. Its Kickstarter is already fully funded (with one stretch goal reached!) and will remain open until April 8th. You can also download the black and white print-and-play version here for free. Pummeling your friends is rarely this fun!
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This Week in Geekdom

Hi everyone, and I don't know if it's technically a convention, but best wishes for a happy event (con) to those of you at SxSW this weekend. I've never been, but that seems like a really unique experience. Maybe the GIR and I will add it to the List of Events to Try Out (along with Emerald City Comic Con and SPIEL). Anyhow, on the subject of cons, we're finished decompressing from last week's PAX East 2015 and are ramping up preparations for Gen Con, which is only 135 days away as of this writing. Gah! There'll be plenty more written about the latter in the coming weeks but, for now, let's get down to This Week in Geekdom.

Image Source: the Washington Post

On Friday the world got a bit darker with the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett. 

Bill Watterson gave this extremely rare interview to the Washington Post and talked about why you should definitely get your eyes on his new book.

The upcoming Star Wars novel Star Wars: Lords of the Sith will add a new layer of diversity to the characters that inhabit that galaxy far, far away.


Authorities in the Cayman Islands announced late this past week that they were suspending their search for DC/Marvel artist Norman Lee, who is now listed as having been lost at sea.


It's one of the the most prolific sound effects in the history of film: the Wilhelm Scream.

People of Springfield, Illinois be warned: Cobra Commander has been given control of your city!

Netflix regularly invites its developers to mess around with its code, which sometimes yields amazing results. Other times, like at this year's first 'hack day', they end up with amusing, if wholly impractical, things like being able to port the streaming service into an original NES.

HBO is clamoring to have Game of Thrones stretch into 10 seasons rather than the originally planned, ties-back-to-the-number-of-books number of 7.

Kevin Smith has confirmed that he's working on a sequel to the 1995 cult film Mallrats.


IBM is allegedly working on a Bitcoin-eqsue technology that would create viable all-digital currency.

It's been over a year since China's Chang'E-3 mission successfully landed on the moon, but its lunar rover, Yutu, is still working hard and sending back novel data about our favorite satellite. 

We've chatted a bit about some of the ambitious and sometimes fantastical projects that NASA is working on. On their present to-do list is this: building the world's most efficient passenger plane.

Image Credit: NASA
Our Sun is so omnipresent that it's kind of astounding to think that we didn't even know the particulars of how it worked until the 2000s.

Ever wondered what would happen if you stuck your head in a particle accelerator?

Today is the 30th birthday of the .com domain name.

General Awesomeness

Artist Stuart Witts is big on minimalist posters and, in his latest round of work, he brings us these interpretations of vintage computers.

Antarctica just had its first sunset of 2015. Here's a shot of the otherworldly frozen terrain.

Crowdfundables for Your Consideration

There are 10 days remaining to lend your support to the legal visual novel Regeria Hope. The Kickstarter for all this courtroom goodness ends on March 25th.

Adorable Pandaring, the fast and, yes, very cute game by Asmadi Games is fully funded, so there's little stopping you from using the Kickstarter to get your own copy of panda panda pandas!

Speaking of fully funded, Dwarven Forge's latest campaign, this time featuring urban versions of their trademark terrain tiles, is over 1000% funded, meaning you can benefit from their many, many stretch goals if you support the Kickstarter now.

As always, hope you all have an excellent week ahead!
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PAX East 2015 Round Up

Wait, PAX was a week ago? How is that possible? I’m going to go ahead and blame daylight savings. Losing an hour of sleep is guaranteed to make almost anyone a little disoriented. Diurnal editing aside, another PAX is in the books and we have all the highlights for you. 

PAX ran up against quite a few obstacles this past weekend, the fact that said weekend was an hour shorter than most being one of them (mercifully, snow was not one of these). The fact that the first day of the con coincided with the last day of the Game Developer’s Conference was very much another. While no companies overtly (or publicly) elected to have a presence at GDC versus PAX, West Coast versus East, there were distinctly fewer publishers/ developers in the main dealer hall than we’ve seen in previous years. This may also have been a symptom of another sort of convention fatigue, as the inaugural PAX South wrapped up only five weeks earlier. If it turns out that the latter issue kept game makers away, then next year may provide some relief as PAX East 2016 is slated for late April (the 22nd-24th according to the MCCA). Consequently, the main concourse of PAX was primarily populated with hardware names. 

At several points during the convention we asked ourselves if, “Is Studio XYZ not here or did we just not see them?” In most cases, the answer was that the studio in question had no dealer hall presence. Riot Games, who have been scaling back their convention presence in general, tried to atone for their absence by hosting a lounge for individuals cosplaying as characters from League of Legends while many other devs/publishers used the Firaxis technique and hosted one or more panels. Related aside: it'll be interesting to see what Riot does in the next few years with regards to con attendance. We honestly wouldn't be surprised if they tried to create a RiotCon.

The main dealer hall may have been light on AAA studios, but that was arguably a boon to the many unaffiliated developers that occupied the Indie Megabooth. Given the lack of big-name competition and PAX exclusive headlines, the Indie Megabooth did a lot of the heavy lifting so to speak. In keeping with our other convention round-ups, we’ll summarize those impressive indie titles along with the offerings from the bigger studios below, then follow those synopses up with our impressions of PAX as a whole.

Blizzard Entertainment – Blizzard clearly enjoyed being one of the few truly big-name studios on the floor and garnered a quantity of foot traffic rivaled only by the Twitch booth (as the latter broadcast LoL matches during the con). With two highly anticipated titles floating in the beta-verse, it was not hard to discern what all the fuss was about, even if Blizzard saved all the big announcements for its own convention. The publisher announced that its MOBA, Heroes of the Storm, will be getting another character in the form of Sylvanas, who seems to be rogue-ish and DPS-y, as well as another playable map: Tomb of the Spider Queen. Blizzard's other forthcoming MOBA, the arena combat first-person shooter Overwatch, will also be getting new characters: the gunslinging McCree and the tanky Zarya. Neither title has a definite release date, but Heroes of the Storm is said to be available later this year while Overwatch is supposed to hit the market in 2016.  

Denneton Games - Denneton found itself unable to continue its practice of hiding in plain sight during the course of the con, as too many gamers crowded around their booth in order to catch a glimpse of the fully finished Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. That title went live on March 10th and is now available for purchase on Steam. 

Disruptor Beam - We had high hopes for this local studio. They had an engaging booth smack-dab in the middle of the main dealer hall and they had two games themed on two incredibly enduring franchises: Star Trek and Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, neither of their titles, Star Trek Timelines and Game of Thrones: Ascent seemed like they were at all ready for a playable alpha, nonetheless a live demo for tens of thousands of gamers. We queued to try out each game, but every attempt was thwarted by either network issues (in the case of Game of Thrones) or massive fatal bugs (as was the case with Timelines). It was at this booth that we learned an iPad does, in fact, have a blue screen of death. Hopefully Disruptor can shore up these issues, but neither game was particularly compelling even without the problems.

Image Credit: Dreadbit
Dreadbit - It was complete happenstance that we found Dreadbit in the Indie Megabooth, but we were very glad that we did. This British studio may be small of stature, but their game, Ironcast, was deceptively broad and deep. The title bills itself as match three meets FTL and it certainly has elements of both of these things, but is also so much more. Players are transported to an alternate history that boasts both visually stunning steampunk imagery and mechs. You are the pilot of your mech and engage in a series of duels with rival pilots. Combat takes place via a modified match-three type interface, with the player and the AI alternating interactions with said interface akin to Demiurge's Marvel Puzzle Quest. Instead of swapping tiles to make chains of three or more like colors, you must look at the board and try to draw the longest possible chain of any given color. As in Puzzle Quest, the colors aggregate and enable specific abilities. Success on the field of battle allows players to make repairs or equip their mech with more advanced gear. It's a wholly addicting title and a welcome addition to the genre. Ironcast will be available on Steam on March 26th.

Drinkbox Studios - Two PAXes ago the name on everyone's lips was Guacamelee and Drinkbox was looking to follow-up their debut success with the introduction of their new title, Severed. The first-person light RPG puts gamers in the body of the protagonist, a woman who has lost an arm and potentially her family to fantastical monsters. Players journey through the game's lush and stunning environments in an attempt to learn what brought the protagonist to her present state and battle many, many monsters along the way. While the premise is certainly interesting and the art direction/soundtrack were incredibly rich, we're wary of Severed's touch-based controls and the fact that it's going to be a PS Vita exclusive (at least for the near-term). Drinkbox has Severed slated for release during the summer of this year.  

Gearbox Software - The story for Gearbox was all about Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel. The title will be getting some new DLC on March 24th with the release of Claptastic Voyage. As the name indicates, this new chapter centers on Claptrap with the entirety of the game taking place in his mind and from his vantage. Gearbox also confirmed that the Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack 2 will be the final add-on for the season pass of Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel. Claptastic Voyage and the Upgrade Pack will be sold as a bundle (for $10 USD) or, for you pass-holders, will be included with the purchase of a season pass ($30 USD).

Robot Entertainment -  One of the single longest lines in the Indie Megabooth was populated with gamers itching to demo Orcs Must Die Unchained, Robot's upcoming foray into the world of MOBAs. The game is coming up on the beginning of its closed beta, which is scheduled to go down on March 24th. There's still time to try and get a slot in said beta, which you can do by registering here.

Up North Indies - Some of our favorite moments from the convention came from this collective of 15 Canadian developers. Aside from producing impressive games, Up North ran their booths very efficiently and were true to the stereotype of being incredibly all-around nice. It was tough to even narrow down our top choices from these guys, but the titles below were what rose above their peers.

Dark Nexus Arena (Whitebox Interactive) - In  a sea of new MOBAs, it was a tall order to try and make your offering to the genre stand out, but Whitebox managed to do so with some clever mechanics and the benefit of getting Warhammer 40K licensing from Games Workshop. Dark Nexus lives up to its name, presenting two teams of five players each with a dank and unforgiving field of combat. While the overarching experience is similar to that of most MOBAs, we were drawn to the requirement for a high level of precision in combat and the point-based conditions for victory (specifically the ability to deny your opponents points by executing your own downed team members). You'll be able to dispense justice in the name of the Emperor beginning in the third quarter of this year. The game will be free to play and you can sign up for early access here.

Jotun (Thunder Lotus Games) - This was, hands down, our absolute favorite game of PAX. This 2D action-explorer is set in the bleak, ice-laden landscape of purgatory. You play as Thora, a viking maiden who has died an inglorious death and now must prove herself worthy of entrance into the hallowed halls of Valhalla. Aside from clean and simple, but challenging mechanics, the game boasts a soaring musical score and some of the most beautiful art direction we've seen in years. The entire thing, start to finish, is 100% hand-drawn animation, which still astounds me even just typing that out. Jotun is coming to Steam in September of this year and is definitely not to be missed.

Viking Squad (Slick Entertainment) - Vikings were one of the bigger themes of this year's PAX and if it brings us things like Jotun and Viking Squad we'll be totally ok with that. This 2D side-scrolling team brawler will have you recalling all the best parts of Castle Crashers while introducing innovative, RPG-like elements to that time-honored formula. Though there's no formal release date associated with Viking Squad, the game will be available on Steam (for both PC and iOS) and PS4. Bonus kudos to Slick for attending GDC, then hustling out to PAX East!

Given that PAX East is only in its fifth year (and its fourth year at the BCEC), it’s to be expected that we’ll see some organizational changes with each iteration until PAX staff feels satisfied with how everything works. This year’s alterations to the overall layout of the con resulted in an odd sort of overall experience. That’s not to imply that odd = bad, just that some of the some of the layout raised questions, like "Why is the PC freeplay area inside the tabletop freeplay area?" While some facets raised eyebrows, other decisions, like that which resulted in food stations being located throughout the con instead of shunting everything off to one far end, seemed to work out pretty well.

Other things that seemed to make out pretty well were board/tabletop games. Despite the weird layout of the board gaming portion of the hall, it seemed as though most developers and publishers garnered a lot of attention. Aside from a considerable presence in the main hall, board games comprised a large percentage of the panels offered during the con (which included ours!).

It'll be interesting to see how PAX East continues to develop, particularly as other conventions do the same in parallel. While it was great to see all the indies get a chance to shine, it may be tough from a business sustainability standpoint to not have many AAA studios present.

From a personal standpoint, this PAX was entirely different experience than any other convention I've attended. Between preparing for, then participating in, the panel and trying to demo as many games as possible it was all media-mode all the time. Though I'd refurbished my Red costume from last year, I ended up deciding to play games and meet developers instead of cosplaying. It was exhausting, but so very awesome.

Until next year PAX. See you in 2016!
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GiR by GIR: Deathtrap

An action-based tower defense game in the vein of Sanctum or Dungeon Defenders, Deathtrap by NeocoreGames managed to win me over despite my serious skepticism after a few enemy waves. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoy a good TD and have been playing them as far back as custom maps in the original StarCraft, but, after an underwhelming experience with Defense Grid 2, I wasn’t exactly eager to jump back into the genre; Deathtrap has completely changed that.

Deathtrap manages to feel familiar but be wholly different at the same time. Monsters come from spawns and traverse along an indicated path towards a gate which the player must protect by defeating said monsters. Unlike most TDs there is no mazing element or using objects to block the path. Instead there is a strong focus on placing the best combination of traps, or traps that synergize well with the player's gear, in optimal and efficient locations. I found this change refreshing as it keeps the player actively engaged in helping fight enemies instead of simply building a giant labyrinth and letting towers or other siege weapons do all the heavy lifting.

The camera provides a third person vantage similar to what you’d find in Diablo or Torchlight rather than the first person view you get with Sanctum or Dungeon Defenders. To enhance the ARPG experience, NeocoreGames has included loot drops, side quests, and crafting to the mix as well. This active participation during battle and level of character management in between missions is one of the key differences from other TD games which, consequently, made Deathtrap so compelling to me. While it’s true there's a simple perks system in Sanctum and some leveling aspects in Dungeon Defenders, NeocoreGames draws on their past ARPG experience (they made The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing) to excellent effect here. With 3 classes, with over 50 unique skills, a level cap of 100, 25 unlockable traps with 150 potential upgrades, there’s plenty of grinding and leveling for those who want it.

Your three choices of class are the Mercencary, the Sorceress, and the Marksman. The Mercenary is a melee brawler with a focus on mechanical traps and dispatching foes personally. Meanwhile the Sorceress’s skill set has a strong focus on mystical traps as one might expect, buffing elemental damage, and slinging spells from afar to take down threats. Lastly there is the Marksman who seemed to be a blend of mechanical traps, poisons, and battlefield mobility; a blend of the previous two classes that never really reached the full potential of either. Personally I felt the Marksman to be the most under powered but, honestly, I spent the least amount of time with him so maybe I just didn't find that sweet spot where his skill set truly shines.

While each class may have a specific trap affinity, no trap is class-specific, and all are available once unlocked with a given character, allowing players to tackle each wave and mission pretty much as they see fit. The only real restriction comes from the lack of free placement in combat. Unlike other TDs, as noted earlier, there is no mazing element or obstructing. Instead, each trap type can only be built on a corresponding node/location. For instance Gun Towers and Blade Launchers, which are mechanical, can only be built on pillars adorned with gears while Lighting and Ice towers, which are Mystic, can only be constructed on pillars with an altar at the top. Another distinction is between pillars and floor traps, the latter, which you may have safely assumed, also have specific types of tiles which must correspond with their placement.

Sadly with all this good comes some bad; very minor bad, one might even say quibbling. The art direction is properly grim and gritty akin to a Diablo or Grim Dawn, as opposed to bright and colorfully cartoonish like Torchlight or Dungeon Defenders which may or may not appeal, depending on your personal tastes. The soundtrack is decent but nothing truly epic to match the sense of scale and desperation your struggle is portrayed as. Finally, the story is ultimately generic and forgettable. Though, to be fair, picking up a TD game looking for a sweeping epic legend is akin to picking up Taco Bell looking for authentic Mexican food. My only real complaint was the UI, specifically how the UI worked with a controller, which it defaulted to. The tutorial prompts all displayed controller buttons but the actual text seemed to refer to keyboard controls. This should have been a red flag to me. Now these could all be personal problems, but I often found that some functions simply would not work, like putting items in my stash, or trying to hover over various things to generate tool tips. I haven’t had any issues using a mouse and keyboard yet, but I am wary. Part of what makes this so frustrating is that I actually preferred the controller to use during the combat and missions themselves, but the menu navigation and inventory interaction was so flawed I was forced to switch to M+KB  after a few hours.

The last thing I feel I should touch on are the Co-Op and Multiplayer aspects. It’s true that more and more TDs are starting to offer this option, but Deathtrap by far and away has done it the best. In Co-Op loot is localized so everyone is free to grab whatever they see fit and while Essence (your incrementally earned ability to upgrade certain traps) is split between players, it is not shared from a single pool so you never have to worry about using up communal resources or getting the last hit because you wanted the shiniest trap. There’s an online leaderboard and Steam Workshop support, the latter of which functions in tandem with a custom map maker for future adventures when you run out of campaign to grind. There is also a versus mode which I've dabbled in but not fully examined. It seems one player takes the traditional guardian trap builder role while the opposing player can buff waves and possess/control specific individual mobs to provide a more cunning enemy than the mindless AI marching on your gates. 

Bottom line is that NeocoreGames has really impressed me with a game I might have otherwise overlooked in a rush of releases lately. I definitely see myself  making time to play a level here or there going forward regardless of what else my hit my already overloaded plate. Deathtrap is out now on Steam for $19.99. If you enjoy TDs and ARPGs then Deathtrap is like an enemy spawn rushing towards your portal: it’s not to be missed.   
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